Osama Bin Laden, the world’s number one fugitive from justice, has been killed by United States Navy Seals in a raid on a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan. President Obama, already running for reelection, wants to take credit for this stunning success. He could do a lot more to earn the credit he is seeking if he would use Bin Laden’s death as an opportunity to educate Americans and other global citizens about 21st Century geopolitical realities and possibilities.
So far Obama has said all the right things. On Sunday night he thankfully acknowledged the military and the intelligence services for carrying out the successful mission. He also acknowledged the pain and suffering of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 and in other terrorist attacks, while reassuring Muslims that the attack on Bin Laden was not an attack on Islam. However there is so much more that needs to be said in order to take advantage of this window.
First, Obama needs to address critics that say that Bin Laden’s death is meaningless, because someone will step forward and take his place. This criticism is based on the erroneous assumption that charisma is widespread and that charismatic leaders can be easily replaced. In fact, very few people are charismatic, and charismatic leaders are rare. Bin Laden was a very charismatic leader, inspiring thousands to answer the call of jihad. He may have been a non-operational figurehead by the time of his death, but his symbolic importance to the Islamist cause should not be underestimated: His death is a major blow to Islamism.
Second, Obama needs to warn Western electronic news media organizations: They are undermining the victory over Islamism by allowing Bin Laden to go on “living”. Over the last few days the media have been endlessly playing footage of a younger, more vibrant Bin Laden leading his adoring followers in the terrorist training camps. Can the media people really be this stupid? Don’t they understand that television is the perfect recruiting medium for charismatic leaders? In essence Western news organizations are allowing a dead Bin Laden to recruit the next wave of jihadist recruits.
Third, Obama needs to make the point that that Bin Laden’s terrorist attempts to overthrow authoritarian Arab regimes are no longer necessary, thanks to the “Arab Spring”, the democratically inspired revolts that began in January in Tunisia. Furthermore, if democratic revolts overthrow all or most of the remaining Islamic dictatorships, the likelihood of a future Bin Laden is greatly reduced. Therefore the Obama Administration should consider escalating the amount of aid that the United States is giving to anti-authoritarian rebels in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, where the outcome of their revolts is still in doubt.
Fourth, Obama needs to indicate that Bin Laden’s death is part of a positive trend: Since the beginning of the century Slobodan Milosevic and other genocidal Serb and Croat leaders have been arrested and put on trial for crimes against humanity; the Taliban were forced out of power in Afghanistan; Omar Al-Bashir, the Sudanese dictator, has been charged with genocide by the International Criminal Court; Saddam Hussein was executed by the democratically elected government of Iraq; and the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt were forced out of power by the their own people. The tolerance for dictators and dictator-wannabes seems to be diminishing in an important part of the world, and the United States has played a major role in its diminishment. Obama could further make the point that Bin Laden’s death may signify the end of all dictatorships on the planet (and terrorist groups that aspire to dictatorship) within the next few decades, if the world’s democracies take advantage of the progress made during the Arab Spring by consistently and aggressively supporting democratic regime change in non-democracies everywhere in the world.